It's a big question today: Which is more important to a magazine — its ink-and-print edition or its website? It's the question roiling one of America's leading journalistic publications, the Columbia Journalism Review, and one which has already led to the resignation of two of its top online editors.
At issue is how much money the magazine is willing to devote to its website, CJRDaily. At the moment the website is free to its readers. But that is turning out to a big burden – and the magazine is not prepared to invest more money in it. In fact it has cut the web site's budget in half. That led to the resignation of the site's managing editor and his deputy.
The dean of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Nicholas Lemann, said he planned to use the money instead on a big mail-order campaign to increase the magazine's subscription list. At the moment, CJR, which comes out six times a year, has a circulation of 20,000.
Lemann said he was faced with the same question confronting most news organizations today – how to pay for an on-line staff when the site is free to readers. He said that he had been out fund-raising every day but had been unable to gather enough money to support the site.
His decision therefore was to try an increase the magazine's subscribers which, while being expensive, should result in more income to help maintain the website. Some of the website 's staff disagree. Two of them — managing editor Steve Lovelady, who once worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and his deputy Bryan Keefer, formerly the Page One editor of the Wall Street Journal — handed in their resignations.
Lovelady's comment: "To me this sounds like something out of the 19th Century. He's taking the one fresh smart thing he has done and gutting it"
CJR started the website in 2004, with the original purpose of scrutinizing the mainstream media's coverage of that year's presidential election. It proved so popular that it was decided to keep it on after the election and broaden its scope. It even received an award from the National Press Club. It now receives around 500,000 visits a month – an increase of 30 per cent since the beginning of the year.
The school's dean reiterated that he had not lost confidence in the web. "We really believe in it" he insisted.
But he also believes in print. "I don't think print is going away" he said "Print does some things the web can’t".
However not all his professional colleagues agree. Prof. Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at New York University, described the move as a "strategic error."
In fact, he suggested, the Columbia Journalism Review should drop its print version and go entirely online" He added "In the long run that would be the smarter move"